Throughout the month of August, the walls of the St. Anthony Park Clinic were filled with cards full of well wishes and lamenting the closing of the practice at 2315 Como Ave., and the imminent retirement of Dr. David Gilbertson.
The clinic shut its doors Sept. 1, and after 39 years of practicing medicine there, Gilbertson isn’t exactly sure what he’s going to do. He does know he won’t open another practice. A summer of saying goodbye to his longtime patients took its toll.
The 70-year-old family practitioner hadn’t planned to stop practicing now, but when HealthEast announced in June that it was closing his office, his professional plans changed.
Gilbertson sold his practice to HealthEast in February 2009. The need to move to electronic patient records and have the staff to manage those records is why he merged his practice with a larger operation. In mid-June, the company announced it would end the lease and close the office. Gilbertson’s partner of 12 years, Omar Tweten, retired in June.
All of Gilbertson’s staff members have found jobs within the HealthEast system. It’s the patients he’s worried about.
“It has created some problems,” he says. About half of Gilbertson’s patients are senior citizens. Many have used his clinic because they don’t need to drive far to get there, and they like the personal service that Gilbertson and Tweten provided.
“They were here because they knew they’d see me or Tweten.” Though he’s referred his patients to the larger clinics nearby, “it’s not the same,” he says.
“Some were thinking I’d open another practice down the street,” he said. “I don’t have the money to do that. I don’t really want to do it. It’s too hard going through this closure. It’s pretty dramatic.”
Gilbertson’s practice has about 2,000 patients on record. He says he sees 80 to 90 patients a week.
He says he always thought he’d hand the practice off to a younger doctor, but he’s been told it’s hard to get younger physicians to work in small clinics. “That’s what they tell me anyway.”
Gilbertson says the closing doesn’t mean it wasn’t a successful practice. “It just didn’t have growth potential. HealthEast made an economic decision. That’s what big business does. If they can’t grow it, they close it.”
Gilbertson began his practice in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood when Dr. Fred Arny retired. He worked for 11 years with Dr. Carolyn Johnson, before she moved to a clinic on Rice Street. Tweten joined him 12 years ago.
“I’m the last man standing,” Gilbertson laughs.
He says he has a lot of fond memories here and has no regrets. “We’re glad we could offer a personalized service,” he said.
For now, Gilbertson will spend more time with his beekeeping (he keeps a case of bottled honey in his office to give to his patients to help “sweeten their day”), and he and his wife, Katherine (a nurse practitioner at Bethesda Hospital), have a cabin that needs some care. He says he has some other business projects he wants to look into. His main concern: “I hope I don’t have too much spare time on my hands.”